Durban drivers, fined R500 every time they are caught using their cellphones while driving, are heeding the metro police’s plea to refrain from the potentially dangerous activity.
Spokesman Senior Superintendent Eric Khuzwayo said that while there had been a definite decrease in motorists using their cellphones while driving in the past two months, the figures were still alarming.
More than 2 000 eThekwini motorists have been fined since January.
Giving a breakdown of all the fines that had been issued since the beginning of the year, Khuzwayo said 2 786 motorists had been issued the R500 fine, with the most fines – 675 – issued in April.
In January, 537 motorists were fined, 502 in February, 643 in March, 675 in April and 429 in May.
“There was an alarming increase in March and April and that’s when we decided to intensify our enforcement,” said Khuzwayo, speaking at the Sandile Thusi (Argyle) and Matthew Meyiwa (Stamford Hill) intersection on Thursday morning where officers were conducting their monthly cellphone blitz.
“Although we haven’t compiled all the figures for June, we can see that drivers are finally heeding our plea.”
In two hours on Thursday – between 7.30am and 9.30am – only six motorists were nabbed at the busy intersection, a sharp contrast to the 86 motorists who were issued with fines in April.
The April blitz was held at the same intersection and fines totalling R43m were dished out in one hour.
Also unlike April, when motorists tried to wriggle their way out of paying the fines by offering a range of excuses, motorists yesterday apologised for their transgression.
One brazen motorist, driving a black car, sped off when she was flagged down by the officers.
The officers quickly jotted down her vehicle registration number.
“We will still issue the owner of the vehicle with a fine,” said Khuzwayo.
Recent research done by the Road Traffic Management Corporation showed that a motorist had a four-time greater chance of being involved in a car crash when using a cellphone, and almost double that when SMSing.
Cape Town announced last week that motorists caught talking on their cellphones without hands-free kits would have their phones confiscated from the start of next month, even if it was a first-time offence. And they will have to wait 24 hours before they can reclaim the devices.
eThekwini metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said the city had yet to take a decision on whether to implement the same by-law as Cape Town.
Motorist Mary Kluk, who was flagged down, said she was frustrated at being fined.
“I was just holding my phone in my hands, and I had stopped (for the red light). I have a hands-free set. I never talk on my phone while driving,” she said.
The officer who issued the fine explained to Kluk that handling a cellphone while the engine was running, even though the car was stationary, constituted an offence.
“This is because you could start moving at any time. You need to keep your eyes on the road at all times,” he said.
Kluk said she was unaware of this.
The second person pulled over and fined, Enver Weitz, said he was getting directions over the phone.
“I’m from East London, and I need to get to Pietermaritzburg – I’m a little lost,” he said, laughing.
He said he was not angry or frustrated. “These people are just doing their jobs.”
One of the officers said some motorists often became aggressive, hurling abuse at her and fellow officers – some also threatened physical violence and legal action.
“It’s because I’m a woman – they think they can intimidate me, but I just laugh it off,” said the officer.